How Highland Ramps Up Each Year for Cold Mountain Release

Now on its 27th iteration, Cold Mountain is more than just a beer release for Highland Brewing and its fans, it’s an experience. Beginning November 9, the veteran Asheville brewery centers an entire weekend around its annual Winter Ale.

The weekend-long celebration kicks off with the exclusive Cold Mountain Beer Dinner, followed by what they call “Celebration Sessions” at the brewery filled with live music, entertainment, brewery-only small-batch releases, and more.

Cold Mountain is the brewery’s annual Winter Ale and each version helps shape next year’s version.

“We are always aiming to push the bar and deliver a beer that the customer will love even more than last year’s,” said the trio of Marketing and Communications Manager, Victoria Branch; Events Manager, Marissa Burns; and Sensory Scientist, Megan Rayfield in an email to Brewer. “With the warming vanilla and cinnamon flavors being consistent, the fruit component has the most ‘pop’ in aroma and the nutty flavors kind of tie everything together.”

Cold Mountain has a basic formula – vanilla and cinnamon, plus a fruit component and a nut component.

“We keep the vanilla and cinnamon flavors consistent from year to year, and that is really the base that people have come to love,” they said. “The fruit and nut flavors are the aspects that we tweak a bit each year.”

The brew team will start flavor trials in April, where a panel of staff members try different flavor combinations and provide feedback and suggestions. Often, a flavor combination that is not a winner one year will stay in the running for the next year, so they always have a couple ideas available for use.

“Of our Cold Mountain spin-offs, Coconut Cold Mountain has been a crowd favorite over the years, and this year, Chocolate Hazelnut Cold Mountain is coming back due to high demand,” they said.

Planning the bulk of the event happens from May through November, though the brewing schedule is in place far before then they said.

“We start thinking about Cold Mountain almost immediately after Cold Mountain,” they said. “Our events, hospitality, and marketing teams keep a running list of event ideas that we add to year-round.”

Over the summer, those assigned to be on the music team finalize the lineup using feedback from both guests and team members regarding bands that have been well-received in playing at the event.

“Music has always been a huge part of Cold Mountain Release Weekend,” they told Brewer.

This year’s event is the largest artist-wise since the event began with 17 musical acts.

“We program evening live music at our two indoor stages (Taproom and Event Center) and are hoping to present daytime music both indoors (Taproom) and on our outdoor stage, which requires being flexible based on the weather,” they said. Last year there was rain and freezing temps, but in previous events, they have had all sorts of weather so planning ahead of time matters.

“We are fortunate to have a huge property and multiple venues and stages,” they said. “It requires our entire staff to be ready to move to Plan B, Plan C, or even Plan D if needed.”

This is the second year that Highland has curated Sunday to be “Family Day,” although kids are welcome at all of the sessions. Sunday will have face painters, a caricaturist, fairy hair, and cotton candy. They even created a take-home Cold Mountain coloring page.

The staff is excited about a new addition of sporting events. On Friday, guests will have the chance to win a Cold Mountain prize by participating in a Disc Golf Ace Run They also will host two volleyball tournaments over the weekend on Saturday and Sunday.

Highland will aim for a ticket launch in September, usually right around the brewery’s Oktoberfest party (Clawtoberfest, named after its Clawhammer Marzen).

“Once tickets are on sale, the majority of our pre-event planning is complete,” they said.

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